“Take a Back Seat Schwartz’s, Toronto Has You Beat! And the Perfect Wine with Smoked Meat”

By Robert K. Stephen on April 21, 2011

As a Montrealer transplanted to Toronto since 1984 I had long given up the illusory search for a decent bagel or a smoked meat sandwich in Hogtown. Strangely enough and in somewhat of an unpatriotic fashion (from a Montreal perspective) I have developed a fondness for peameal bacon sandwiches on a bun.Fairmont and St. Viateur have the Montreal-Toronto bagel contest locked up. Try as I may there are no comparable bagels in Toronto with that wonderful, smokiness and dense sweetness Fairmont and St. Viateur can deliver. But hold on Montrealers...Toronto bagels are not bread in a circle or Kaiser Rolls. There are some fairly interesting bagels such as Haymishe Bakery’s light and fluffys and St. Urbain’s attempts at Montreal style bagels but when in Montreal I’ll bundle up six dozen Fairmonter’s and head back to the airport/train station and purr with contentment in Toronto as each little round treasure is removed from the freezerand popped into the toaster. Pure heaven.

But it is no longer true that smoked meat in Toronto can’t live up to the high palace of smoked meat....Schwartz’s. There have been some decent attempts in Toronto for sure but more along the Ben Ash, Ben’s, Delly Boys second tier stream of things. Now Montreal you’ve been topped by Caplansky’s Deli...dare I say superior to Schwartz’s. Sensual chunks of meat, perfectly sliced, spiced and textured with homemade mustards that just may leave Schwartz’s in the dust. I say this bravely hoping I do not have the fate of Danish cartoonists. And yes, don’t panic as they have Cott Black Cherry Cola!

While Schwartz’s is pretty raw, or “authentic” if you like, Caplansky’s (356 College Street) is 1950’s homey, relaxing, mellow and there is Zane Caplansky himself working in the kitchen, clearing tables and chatting up customers. Zane hand makes his smoked meat with tender loving care. He started off with humble beginnings doling out his smoked meat at The MonarchTavern in Toronto in less than chic surroundings but the foodie underground loved it and propelled him with tremendous press to the more sedate College Street location where he has been for the last year and a half doling out thousands of pounds of smoked meat serving close to 500 people a day. And what inspired Zane to embark on his smoked meat journey? Schwartz’s.....!!! There are the usual lean, medium and fatty categories of smoked meat and all sorts of yummy stuff on the menu in fact a more expansive menu than Schwartz’s.

Now that I can relax as I have found a little piece of smoked meat heaven in Toronto I can equally relax as a wine critic saying I have found a red wine that matches the spicy dusky beautiful slices of Caplansky’s smoked meat. If Toronto is so unsophisticated why is there no wine at Schwartz’s? In any case and not to digress I took 3 of my own wines and Zane took his house wine out and we tasted all four with a platter of fatty smoked meat with rye bread and homemade(I think Schwartz’s has some industrial mass produced mustard?) mustard on the side. All 4 wines were highly rated on their own but can they stand up to smoked meat with its heaviness and spiciness? The wines involved in this tasting were ;

1. Dalton Vineyards, Shiraz 2009, Israel, Galilee Region (Kosher), 15% alcohol, LCBO 217349 $19.95. (Not available at SAQ).

2. Muscedere Vineyards, 2008 Syrah, Lake Erie North Shore VQA, Harrow, Ontario, 13% alcohol $40. (Not available at SAQ. Only 40 cases produced so you must order directly from winery).

3. Bodegas Los Aljibes, Selectus, Spain, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla, 2005, 14% alcohol, $53.83         ( Available only to Opimian Society Members which is a wine club headquartered in Montreal).

4. Peninsula Ridge Estate Winery, 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon, Ontario, VQA Niagara, 12.5% alcohol $12.75 LCBO 598748 ( Not available in SAQ so order direct from the winery) .

The 2009 Dalton Syrah from Israel not only held up to the brash smoked meat but complimented it and the smoked meat returned the favour by making the wine last forever on the palate. A gem of a wine. It is rare that a wine food pairing can so dramatically improve the dining experience. The two Canadian wines stood up well to the smoked meat but faltered when mustardwas added to the mix. The Spanish wine, rated a stellar 93 by Robert Parker was absolutely decimated and humiliated by the smoked meat.

The conclusions to be drawn here  are that Montrealers can’t be so smug about its smoked meat reputation and the international wine community might want to consider paying attention to the emerging  Israeli wine industry which like Caplansky’s won’t be flying under the international radar screen much longer. So I can laugh a bit as Montrealer’s pile a case of Dalton Syrah in their cars on the 401 back to Montreal no doubt passing thousands of Montreal bagels heading back to Toronto. Give Toronto a couple of decades and they just may figure out how to win the bagel war. Long live international trade.


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